The 2015 season was one of repeated heartbreak for Campbell.
A blown 11-point lead in a 25-24 loss to Butler, allowing the winning touchdown with 37 seconds left.
A 31-27 loss to Morehead State, allowing the winning touchdown with 14 seconds left.
A 13-10 loss to Marist, squandering a halftime lead and translating 355 yards into just 10 points.
The numerous narrow defeats sent the Camels tumbling to a 5-6 record, well out of the FCS playoff picture.
But senior running back De’Shawn Jones, already the leading rusher in school history with 1,991 career yards, is ready to make this season a more successful — and fortunate — one. He’s hoping to more than double that career total, too, having given himself an ambitious goal of 2,000 rushing yards and 20-plus touchdowns this year.
Here are four things to know about Campbell’s season:
1. Jones plays integral role in offense
Jones led the Pioneer League with 1,079 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns last season. This year, however, he figures to be even more of a centerpiece on offense.
“We’re going to put him all over the field. We’ll spread him out, we’ll get him in the passing game from the backfield,” said coach Mike Minter, a former Carolina Panthers safety entering his fourth year coaching the program. “That’s going to make it difficult for the defense to hone in on what we’re doing when you can spread out your running back and then use him in the passing game from the backfield.”
Thirteen NFL scouts have already visited and shown interest in Minter’s star running back.
Jones said he’s been working on his route-running and catching during the offseason to prepare for that more diversified role. He’s poised to become the leader of a team that lost 36 seniors from last year and will start a redshirt freshman, Elijah Burress, at quarterback.
“I bring that big-play ability to the offense. Last year, I had to realize that the team really does feed off me a lot,” Jones said. “If they see me going hard, I think they’re going to feed off me and they’re going to try to do the same thing.”
2. Strong blocking from line, tight end
Jones (6-0, 215 pounds) will need help from blockers in front of him to reach his lofty goals.
Fortunately, Minter thinks those positions will be strengths of this Campbell team.
Minter returns four of five offensive line starters, including senior tackle Laurin O’Briant (6-7, 295) and junior guard Andrew Franklin (6-3, 320), and plans to work 12 to 15 men into the line rotation. He also has a star tight end in third-year starter Austin Fleming, who boasts a superb combination of size (6-4, 250 pounds), speed (he runs a 4.7-second 40-yard dash) and catching ability (fourth on the team in receptions last year, third the year before).
3. Ryan anchors defense
Last season’s Pioneer League defensive freshman of the year, linebacker Jack Ryan (6-2, 210), returns after a 2015 season that included 66 tackles and two interceptions. He’ll seek to secure a defense that has lost five of its top six other tacklers.
“Jack is the heart and soul of that defense right now,” Minter said. “We’ve got to have other guys step up around him because we’re losing a lot of those productive guys from last year.”
4. Not looking ahead to November
The final three games of the 2016 schedule will be hard to overlook: the annual rivalry game against in-state foe Davidson, then rematches against Morehead State and San Diego, which both narrowly beat Campbell last year.
But Minter is vehement that his team isn’t looking ahead to November at all.
“There’s no circling games around here,” he said. “I’ve never been part of an organization, even when I was playing, that circled games. We’re trying to beat everybody.”
Sept. 1 vs. Bluefield
Sept. 10 at Chowan
Sept. 17 vs. Presbyterian
Sept. 24 vs. Butler
Oct. 1 at Marist
Oct. 8 at Jacksonville
Oct. 22 vs. Stetson
Oct. 29 at Drake
Nov. 5 vs. Davidson
Nov. 12 at Morehead State
Nov. 19 vs. San Diego